How We Learn through Play
For as long as humans have been communicating, we have been doing so using skills learned through play. Interactions in the adult world are often extensions of the fundamental interpersonal skills we learnt as children. So what is play and what can it teach us?
More Than Just a Game
Play may seem like an instinctive, spontaneous act that occurs effortlessly among children, but this is not always the case. Play is not always easy for children and it is not always without effort. While children at play may seem to be filled with laughter, exuberance and animation, a closer look at what is going on can tell us a lot about how our child is feeling and reveal some complex dynamics at work.
Children will play out or re-enact things that are worrying them in games, as well as imitating things they like. Play can be safe place to explore things they have observed or overheard but don’t understand.
In this way, play builds physical, cognitive, language and social skills. As parents and carers, becoming actively involved in play with our children is a valuable opportunity to observe, learn about, and contribute to our child’s internal world.
The Complexities of Play
We have probably all witnessed a play scenario which looks something like this:
Children begin to play by setting their game up with a story. When a game is being set up there are roles involved. One or more children may take the lead and decide that they will set the guidelines for the game. Depending on the other children’s attachment to the outcome of the game, this can cause tension. But as the game is more important, there is a strong desire to move through the tension and so compromise is learned.
Then characters might be assigned – mum, dad, baby, cat, mermaid and so on. This requires more negotiations. Then a plot established before the game begins. This all requires organisation, teamwork, focus and a cognitive understanding of the flow of the narrative! Even in the very young, the basic fundamentals of role play often exist.
Where more physical games are concerned, children explore physical ability, motor skills, communication, fair play, teamwork, skill and learning that winning isn’t everything.
Creative play often nurtures individual expression and vision but it also requires thought. What print will you make on the clay? How will yours look? What have you got to say?
Side by side, the children play creatively and quietly, but inside a significant process if occurring, as they make their voice or mark on the external world.
Shouldn’t Play be Easy?
With so much going on in the world of play, we can see why children are often exhausted at the end of a ‘play date. But as rigorous as it may seem, these are all fundamental skills for children to develop and they are naturally drawn toward the process of testing these skills. We join a game because we want to express ourselves, make our mark, exercise cognitive ability and decision making, and enjoy an outcome. Making the most of play-based learning will harness this wonderful opportunity to engage children in valuable life lessons.
Gently monitoring play-based learning ensures children are able to feel included, safe, and meaningfully engaged with the games they are playing. When you are unable to monitor children, this can be continued in a care-based environment, where carers are attentive and resources are at hand.
When healthy play dynamics are established between kids, they are better able to guide other children in this process. These skills continue during play dates and in the home environment and can improve relationships with peers and siblings.